BLUE RUIN Review: Success Is the Best Revenge
I’ve always thought that revenge movies resonate with viewers more than any other genre of film because there is something about what goes on in the revenge genre that people can easily relate to, yet it has a desired resolution that is just out of people’s reach. It isn’t like a romantic comedy where the ultimate ending – falling in love – can happen in real life. Nor is it like an action picture, where saving a high-rise full of hostages is so fantastical that that scenario could never happen in real life.
However, at the core of any revenge film, someone is wronged. This is what connects us. Who among us hasn’t been wronged by someone in some way? I don’t necessarily mean a movie-level wronging; I mean an everyday wronging like someone breaking your heart or someone verbally abusing you. That’s the easy half.
The trickier half is that in a revenge film, the wronged person tries to make it right. This connects us still because it is something we all want, but we can’t get it; that is, we can’t get it without consequences, and most of us realize that the consequences aren’t worth the actions. But still we want it, and we live the revenge we want vicariously through the revenge the screen shows us, more so than a romantic comedy shows us love and more so than an action picture shows us heroics. We can’t get the Hollywood kind of revenge closure in real life, so we’ll take in a fictitious one.
The latest entry in the revenge movie category is Jeremy Sualnier‘s Blue Ruin, and this one not only connects with the viewer like its predecessors have, it does so in a very realistic way.
By all outward appearances, Dwight (Macon Blair) is a homeless man living on and around Rehoboth Beach, DE. His hair and beard are wildly unkempt. His clothes are no better. He sneaks into empty homes to bathe. He roots through trash dumpsters to eat. He lives in a broken down car.
But when he learns that the man who murdered his parents in Virginia some 20 years prior has been set free, Dwight focuses not on his own survival, but on revenge. With complete disregard for the law or due process, Dwight’s goal is singular: kill the man who killed his parents. He sets out to do just that.
Of course, it isn’t easy.
To reveal any more would be to deny you the discovery on your own of the sublime joy that is Blue Ruin. Director Saulnier, filming from his own script, has crafted a thriller that is not only taut everywhere it should be, it is also incredibly efficient and (in the context of the plot) very realistic.
The story is simple. One man has one goal. There isn’t any complex set-up that requires the man to infiltrate any organization, there isn’t a greater cause that drives the man to broaden his efforts to include getting revenge on all murderers, and there is no elaborate execution of said revenge. One man wants to kill another man. That’s it.
In addition to a simple story, Writer Saulnier challenges Director Saulnier by presenting a script with lean dialogue, and when there is something a little meatier to the page, all of that meat is important. This forces Director Saulnier and Cinematographer Saulnier (that’s Hat Three for those of you keeping score) to create visual imagery that helps tell the tale and keeps the viewer engaged. These two Sualniers rise to that challenge by filling the screen with visuals that put you in the film and keep you in the film.
(By the way, just because a story is simple doesn’t mean it can’t have twists. This one has a couple of doozies.)
But it isn’t just all those pretty pictures and simple words that help make this a great film; the acting is key, too. Blair does the majority of the lifting here. A good portion of Dwight’s time is spent alone, so Blair needs to communicate everything Dwight is going through internally without saying much about it. Blair does this and does it well, especially when it comes to showing us the moral struggle that is tearing him up inside.
The rest of the cast (which only totals an additional 12 people), including Devin Ratray as an old schoolboy friend of Dwight’s, and Amy Hargreaves as Dwight’s sister, all do fine work in support of Blair. (Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that at the near-end of the film, Eve Plumb plays a small but pivotal role. If the name sounds familiar, she is best known as having played middle sister Jan on TV’s The Brady Bunch.)
All of this simplicity and efficiency is great, but none of it would work as well as it does were it not for how realistic the film presents itself.
Newspapers tell us stories of real-life people who commit murder as an act of revenge, so it’s not as if the subject matter strains credulity. And surely in those real-life cases, in that period of time between when the person decides to kill and when s/he finally gets to that moment, things go wrong. Well, things go wrong here. Dwight isn’t a professional at this, nor is he one of those lucky amateurs, either. He takes action and some things go wrong, so he has to make decisions, and then sometimes he makes the wrong decisions. Dwight even has a little bad luck, and even that seems more realistic than anything a so-called bigger story would dare to convey. If there is such a thing as an “everyman revenge killer,” Dwight is it, and the film is so much better for it.
In the end, Dwight learns that revenge works both ways and there is always a price to pay.
Blue Ruin is a marvel not because it does anything new, but because it wildly succeeds at taking something that’s been done a million times before and does it better – and not with superstars or a nine-figure budget or snappy catch-phrases, but with a back-to-basics filmmaking approach coupled with savvy execution on both sides of the camera. The first 8-10 minutes represent the best opening to a film I’ve seen in I couldn’t tell you how long, almost everything that follows demands your attention, and the ending is remarkably satisfying.